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Thousands gather to remember the Somme
30th June 2006





Thousands of British people began gathering on the battlefields of the Somme today to honour the 20,000 who fell in the bloodiest day in the history of the British army.

The Prince of Wales, Princess Anne and cabinet ministers will be among those taking part in a day of commemorations tomorrow exactly 90 years after the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Around 125,000 British and empire troops were killed in the Somme including almost 20,000 on July 1 1916.

With hotels and guest houses across the Somme region filled to capacity, many on personal pilgrimages had to book accommodation up to 30 miles away from the battlefields.

Ahead of formal commemorations tomorrow many today took the chance to make personal visits to memorials and war graves.

Among them was 14-year-old Harry Shuell, a pupil at Bury Grammar School in greater Manchester.

With classmates looking on, Harry, a member of the school's Combined Cadet Force (CCF), laid a wreath of poppies in the village of la Boisselle, just metres from the spot where his great-great-uncle Private Thomas Seville of the 7th Kings Own Royal Lancashire Regiment was killed in 1916.

Four days into the battle of the Somme parts of the village remained in German hands, with enemy soldiers holding out in a labyrinth of trenches.

Aged 26, Pte Seville was commanding a bombing party to help liberate the village when he was killed.

Although his body was never recovered - Pte Seville is one of more than 73,000 names on the British Monument at Thiepval a few miles away - records indicate that he died just a short distance from the village church where today Harry laid a wreath.

Standing in the centre of the village, dressed in his CCF uniform Harry said: "It feels quite eerie to know that he probably would have walked through here, might have sat there and would have died nearby."

For Harry's classmates, on a school battlefield trip, the Battle of the Somme and the First World War has a very personal significance.

A small boys' school with only 197 pupils on the roll in 1914, Bury Grammar lost 97 former pupils in the First World War including 20 at the Battle of the Somme.

Of those a handful were among those cut down on the first day of the battle, including three who were part of the "Manchester Pals" - one of the many famous "pals" battalions drawn from communities across the UK which featured prominently in the battle.

Thiepval memorial

A total of 11 of the pupils' predecessors are remembered on the gigantic British memorial at Thiepval, which lists the names of those with no known graves and where tomorrow the Prince of Wales will take part in 90th anniversary commemorations.

Fellow cadet Shantanu Kafle, 16, from Norde, Greater Manchester, said: "In our school hall there is a big list honouring all those people who died.

"The fact that they were our ages, and were going through horrors that you can't imagine is particularly moving."

Tom Filer, 18, from Worsley, Greater Manchester, is a colour sergeant in the CCF and is considering a military career.

"It is certainly very moving, it makes you think 'I could have been the right age' and those people so fresh from school, so young and so much life to to live.

"I'm looking at army intelligence and there were quite a few intelligence failures here it makes it moving in that way, if it is my future career, you have to learn from the mistakes so that it won't happen again."

For Harry the tribute to his great-great-uncle crowns three years of research in which he traced his relative's service through Commonwealth War Graves Commission records - which include those listed on the Thiepval Monument - and the Manchester archives, where he found an obituary.

"It makes you proud to know that he was leading something. No one else in my family has actually tried to find out about him."

The pupils have been touring the Somme with the school's head of History and Politics Mark Hone, whose two great grandfathers both fought at the Somme. In the run-up to the anniversary the group have visited Montauban, where the three Manchester Pals were killed on July 1.

Others paying a very personal tribute included 36-year-old Neil McGurk, from Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire, whose Great Uncle Corporal William Clark of the Durham Light Infantry died at the Somme in September 1916.

Mr McGurk, originally from Redcar, first decided to carry out some research into his relative after volunteering to take part in a unique battlefield pilgrimage, a five-day march along the front line in authentic 1916 uniform organised by the National Army Museum in London.

Although his relative also has no known grave, Mr McGurk's research helped him narrow down where he fell to within a few fields.

"I know that potentially he is in there somewhere. That there may be a Durham Light Infantry soldier in a grave somewhere known only to God, there is that possibility as well."

dailymail.co.uk
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Fergus Shanahan

The Sun
30th June 2006


British soldiers, Battle of the Somme, 1916

Tomorrow marks the most tragic day in British military history: the start of the Battle of the Somme in the fields of northern France.

On July 1, 1916, when the First World War battle ended, British casualties were 420,000. A generation of young men's names was carved into stone memorials across the bleak French battlefields.

In many towns and villages across Britain, not one lad was left alive between the ages of 16 and 30.

Nearly 30 years later, Hitler's V1 and V2 rockets hammered London. The missiles killed 8908 in and around the capital, on top of the thousands who died in the Blitz. Next week, we will remember 7/7, the worst attack on our country since the Second World War. Fifty-six died in the four explosions, including the four suicide bombers.

It was a ghastly day, but history shows we need to keep a sense of perspective.

It does nothing to diminish the memory of the 7/7 victims to say that tomorrow's Somme anniversary is also a date we should never forget.

thesun.co.uk